Oxford was one of the first cities in the UK to adopt a traffic restraint policy and abandon road building as a solution to its transport problems, and thanks to its sustained efforts, is one of the least car-dependant cities in the UK.
Background & Objectives
Oxford, located in central England, 87 km to the north west of London, has a population of 140,000 (including 20,000 students) and serves a largely rural hinterland with a population of about half a million people. Over one hundred thousand jobs are based in the city with about half taken by commuters from outside.
Various road schemes were promoted from the 1920's onwards, with the aim of removing traffic from the historic centre. By 1963, an outer ring road had been completed. Throughout the 1940's through to the 1970's, there were energetic debates over a series of road "solutions" to Oxford's traffic problems until major road building within the city was finally rejected in 1979, in favour of a traffic demand management approach.
The set of measures that have been implemented for 25 years contributes to a sole purpose: of restraining private vehicle traffic to protect the environment of the historic centre, whilst a high level of economic activity is maintained. In addition, complementary land use policies aimed at protecting the setting of Oxford reducing car dependence and encourage the use of alternative modes of travel have been adopted.
The main components of the strategy first adopted in the 70's are:
- Parking charges for on-street and off-street public spaces in the city centre are high and aimed at discouraging long-stay commuter parking. Uncontrolled private non-residential parking spaces are being reduced progressively as sites come forward for re-development, and only a minimal number of on-site operational parking spaces is permitted in new developments.
- A network of cycle lanes, on and off the road, together with other facilities such as advanced stop line at traffic signals, and extensive cycle parking provision have been introduced to encourage cycling.
- Five large park-and-ride facilities have been built on the edge of the city with capacity for 5,000 cars. Dedicated bus services operate between the car park and the city centre at 5 to 10 minute frequencies during the day, less frequently in the evenings.
- Bus route priority has been achieved along main radial routes from the Park & Ride car parks to the city centre by re-allocating road space to create designated bus lanes.
- General traffic has been restricted on some city centre street and the main shopping area has been fully pedestrianised.
Recently adopted measures and future projects
- Strong land use policies continue to seek to contain the growth of Oxford within its Green Belt and to direct expansion of employment and housing towards four Country Towns that have good public transport links to Oxford.
- Two of the County Towns have long established passenger rail services to Oxford whilst stations were re-opened and rail passenger services were re-established to a third.
- The now ‘bus friendly’ environment with the exceptional growth in bus passengers has allowed the bus companies to invest in new buses so that Oxford has one of the youngest bus fleets in the Country.
- A “Bus Gate” that protects the central area and, in particular, the bus priority route from general traffic but allows through buses taxis and emergency vehicles has recently been introduced.
The traffic restraint approach has proved very successful with city centre traffic levels having not increased over the last 30 years, whilst bus patronage has increased (the proportion of people using buses to enter the central area increased from 38% in 1991 to 53% in 2005), currently 15% of journeys to work by Oxford residents are made by bicycle and economic vitality has been preserved.
Experience in Oxford of over 30 years of car restraint is relevant to cities of the 21st Century for it shows that urban traffic levels can be stabilised and a city remain economically vital and attractive without being car-dependant. Also there is clear evidence that creating a consistent pro-public transport environment with an integrated land use strategy, bus priority systems and car restraint measures, enables high quality subsidy-free bus services to flourish.